The rider—the mind of innate awareness— Is mounted on the horse of mindfulness. Propelled by the wings of the unimpeded wind,
It moves through the path of the bodhichitta central channel
And arrives at the secret door of bliss at the crown.
—from the twenty-one nails, dzogchen teachings from the zhang zhung nyen gyü
When your mind maintains awareness in meditation practice, it can travel a clear, direct path to higher meditative experiences.
When your mind lacks awareness, it is inevitably propelled into places it doesn’t necessarily want to be. It gets caught up in endless internal chatter, fixates on problems and worries, and gets dragged into anger, guilt, pride, or desire. Whichever destination your mind arrives at there is just one essential force that propels it there: the vital wind known as prana, chi, or (in Tibetan) lung. Prana is the essential energy underly- ing all of existence. All of the ways you can relate to the world and to your own mind, energy, and physical body are affected by prana and all are inseparable from prana.
Prana has everything to do with your ability to think and see clearly, laugh, cry, pray, digest your food, drive a car, and even stay alive. Importantly, prana is also fundamental to meditation practice. Your practice will have no effect unless your mind can touch the central issue, whether that issue is cultivating joy, purifying karmic traces, generating devotion to the master, or connecting with the most subtle experience of the nature of mind. How mind touches the issue is through prana.
How Mind and Prana Interact
To enter the doorway of the mind, therefore, you must harness and guide prana rather than be driven by it. Consciously guiding prana begins with a basic understanding of the energy body. Unlike the physi- cal body, which is made up of flesh, blood, bones, cells, blood vessels, and vital organs, the energy body is made up of mind and energy: a sys- tem of spheres of light, sacred winds, channels of light, and chakras.**
Tantric practitioners develop their awareness of the energy body in order to attain the body of the deity. Developing this awareness requires skillful visualization in meditation practice.
The Bön Mother Tantra uses the analogy of the horse, rider, and path to explain the relationship between mind, prana, channels, and chakras:
- Prana is like a blind horse. Without your mind holding the reins, prana gallops unaware in whatever direction karma forces it to go.
- The mind is like a lame rider. Without prana to propel it, your mind is unable to access and connect with higher experiences of freedom, openness, and clarity. It also can’t effectively reach others through prayer.
- When the lame rider catches the blind horse, your mind can go where it intends, experience the right kind of space, connect with the right qualities, and manifest in the right ways. How does your mind catch and guide the prana? Through awareness.
- The channels are the path. Just as a horse will naturally follow a clear trail through a forest, prana travels through a system of channels running throughout the body. There are gross physical channels such as your body’s nerves and blood vessels, subtle energy channels, and very subtle channels that are more related to mind.